by Joe McKeever
As a young minister, I was eager to learn how to present the gospel to people in one-on-one conversations and enrolled in every program I could find that promised to teach such skills.
I recall one in particular, because of a tactic of introducing the presentation that smacked of manipulation.
They sent us out in teams of three, assigned to "take a poll" from door to door in a certain neighborhood. The form asked such questions as, "Which of these religious leaders do you know more about-Mohammed, Christ, or Krishna," and "What would you say is the biggest problem in the world today?" We knocked on doors, introduced ourselves, said we were doing a community survey, asked our questions, and wrote down what they said. Not that it mattered. All of the business about conducting a survey was just a lead-in to get to the point where we could ask, "In your opinion, how does a person get to heaven?"
When they gave the wrong answer, we would ask for the privilege of taking a few minutes of their time to show them what the Bible says on this subject. That was actually why we came, and this is usually where the party at the door said "No, I don't think so," and sent us on our way.
That Saturday afternoon, before we left the church for our assignment, the leader took questions from his nervous pupils. Someone said, "What do we say if they ask us point blank what we're doing out here?" The leader said, "Tell them you're out sharing Jesus Christ with people. Be transparent. We have nothing to hide."
Whew. I liked that. The fact that the presentation they had taught us felt somewhat contradictory to this advice was a little confusing, but I still recall the relief I felt when the burden of manipulation was removed.
I was never much of a salesman of the door-to-door kind. The idea of sneaking up on people's blind side, then trying to sell them something they didn't know they needed, was a fearsome prospect and not for me.
Thereafter, as I searched to learn how to present the gospel in the most natural and effective way, transparency became one of my paramount considerations.
Nothing to hide. No hidden motives, no secret agenda, no subliminal persuasions. Just be yourself, tell who you are and what you are doing. See if they want what you have to offer and if so, give it to them. If not, shake the dust off and go on to the next person.
Does that sound familiar? It's pretty much what our Savior was instructing the disciples in Matthew 10. Check out some of these instructions and see how important transparency was to our Lord (see 10:26, 27, and 32).
There is no place in the Kingdom of God or in any of the methodologies that the Holy Spirit employs for manipulation, for subterfuge, for camouflage, or for anything less than open-handed honesty. "We have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God" (2 Cor. 4:2).
One more from my early years in the Lord's work: A friend, let's call him Glenn, called to ask if he could bring his evangelistic team to the town where I was pastoring. He assured me they had been used of the Lord to do some amazing things in the schools of the area where they lived, and cited incredible numbers of young people turning to Christ. This was surely of God. So I invited them to spend a few days in my town, hosted by my little church.
Then I saw what they did. Glenn had a fellow with him who was an entertainer. In school assemblies-back when we could get into schools-he would act goofy, tell his silly stories, get the kids laughing and singing some of his sing-along ditties, and then turn it over to Glenn. In a brief presentation, Glenn told how really neat it would be if these young people invited Christ into their lives to have this same kind of joy all the time.
Then he directed their attention to the cards that had been distributed. "We'd like to have a record of every person here today," he said, and led them in filling in the blanks. Then, at the top of the card, if they wanted Jesus Christ in their lives, they could circle "S" which represented "Salvation".
He probably led them in some kind of salvation prayer. The long-ago details are a little murky, but what I remember most is trying to do follow-up from those cards.
In a Christian school, I think every child there had circled the "S." When I phoned their homes to talk with them, parents wanted to know who this adult was calling their kid. When I told them, they were suspicious. "We go to Wesley Presbyterian" or "Calvin Methodist," they said firmly, and wanted none of what I was offering.
The few youngsters I actually got to talk with did not have a clue that they had done anything life-changing such as giving their hearts and lives to Christ.
Glenn, however, went on his way with his band of merry men, proudly touting the large numbers, "literally hundreds who came to Christ in our meetings."
Oh, that it were so. But it wasn't. Not even close.
The Problem of Transparency
The problem in transparency is that once people know who you really are and what you are actually up to, they might not want what you are offering. Well, that's the whole point. Did you think by disguising your identity or your purpose you could get their names on the dotted line and slip them into heaven before they figured out that you are a Christian spreading the gospel?
And where from the Scriptures did you learn this technique of winning people to Christ? I think I know the answer: you didn't. It's not in there.
One of these days, someone with a passion to share his faith with others is going to do it the way they did it in Scripture and it will be hailed as a great discovery.
Keep Nothing Back
Speak the truth. Tell no lies. But more than that, tell the whole truth. Do not sneak up on people with the demands of the gospel after you have talked them into joining your church. Tell them up front what they will be getting into.
Jesus said, "No one constructs a building without counting the cost." He said, "No one can come after me who does not deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me."
There should be no hidden costs, no rules that are going to rise up and bite them after they have signed on the dotted line for salvation, and certainly no time-release revelations about the demands of the gospel that they were unprepared for when someone first presented Christ's message to them.
You get the impression that the new members of some churches must feel betrayed. No one told them when they were sweet-talked into joining that the church was involved in a massive building campaign and they would be expected, not only to donate ten percent of their income to the church on a regular basis from now on (forever and ever, amen), but to give over and above that a pretty substantial sum to the fund-raiser.
The fear on the part of the ministers, of course, is that if we tell them the whole story, they won't come.
We respond, if you don't tell them, you are violating your call, betraying your people, and dishonoring your Lord. Furthermore, what money they do put in the offering plate, if any, will probably be given grudgingly and sparingly.
Better to tell a person the whole truth: You are a sinner, as we all are. Here's what the Bible says and here is the fate awaiting you as a result of your sin. However, God is love and here is what His love did-sent Jesus Christ into the world as your Savior, to die on the cross and rise again. His full salvation, His complete forgiveness, and the gifts of His grace are available to all who repent of their sins and turn their lives over to Christ. Would you like to do this?
If they say "Yes,"-and some will but some will not-then tell them how. Do not ask them to pray the sinner's prayer before you tell them what that prayer is. Explain what they will be doing. Tell them a new life is awaiting them. Tell them God will make demands on them, and that "old things are passed away; behold all things are made new" (2 Cor. 5:17).
No cards up your sleeve. No agenda that only the dedicated believers know. No secrets of the Kingdom which only the insiders get to learn. None of that garbage.
Just the gospel. Pure and unadulterated. The greatest news this planet has ever received.
Tell them. And make sure you show them.
(Editor's note: The articles in this series on leadership qualities and functions in the church are drawn from a larger series written by Dr. McKeever.)
Dr. McKeever, a pastor for more than four decades, presently serves as
director of missions for the New Orleans Baptist Association -
a post which could be described as "pastor to pastors."